In a 2021 season that was dismal for the Colorado Buffaloes, and particularly on offense, Brenden Rice was one of the few bright spots.
Nobody on that CU team put up impressive numbers on offense, but Rice was, without question, the most explosive player and someone Buff fans were excited about.
Then, he left.
Rice’s decision to leave CU and transfer to USC in December of 2021 wasn’t surprising, but it was painful for Buff fans.
On Saturday, Rice will make his return to Boulder, as the No. 8 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) face Colorado (3-1, 0-1) at Folsom Field (10 a.m., Fox).
“Very familiar (territory) and I can’t wait to get back to Folsom,” Rice told USC reporters this week. “Colorado is my first love, so just seeing how coach (Deion) Sanders has transformed Colorado, it makes me happy. But at the same time, going back, that nostalgia, it’s a rival to me now and I can’t wait to tear up Folsom.”
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Rice, the son of NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, flashed his potential with six catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns and an 81-yard punt return for touchdown. In 2021, he caught 21 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns.
At USC, Rice has continued to develop, to the point that he’s now one of the most reliable weapons for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams. Rice caught 39 passes for 611 yards and four touchdowns last year. He has 12 catches for 257 yards and five touchdowns so far this year.
Although he’s become a star for USC, Rice said this week he still is fond of CU and he’s enjoyed seeing the transformation of the Buffs’ program led by Sanders.
“The city of Boulder is a college town, so being in that environment, the fans were like, this is a sleeping giant away (from being good),” Rice said. “Deion Sanders was able to come wake them up and I’m happy for that.”
Some of Sanders’ most memorable battles during his Hall of Fame career came against Jerry Rice. And, the two of them were teammates for a year, helping the San Francisco 49ers win a Super Bowl in 1995.
On Saturday, the sons of Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice could go against each other. CU safety Shilo Sanders is one of the leaders of the Buffs’ secondary, but it’s unclear if he will be healthy enough to play.
Asked about seeing the sons face each other, Coach Prime said he “could care less.”
“I don’t give a darn about that,” he said. “I care about all my kids, man – all my kids that have on a Colorado Buffalo uniform. That’s what I care about. … I care about Mr. Williams, you know, Caleb Williams, and that whole host of young men that’s coming.
“I’m happy for Jerry that his son is doing his thing. I saw (Hall of Famer Terrell Owens) post about his son who scored a touchdown last week. And I’m happy with any father that’s there in their kids’ life and doing a wonderful thing, I really am. I’m into fatherhood, I really am.”
Of course, once the game starts, fatherhood doesn’t matter, and neither does the fact that Rice used to be a Buff. The current Buffs simply want to stop him and the rest of the Trojans.
“I’m excited every week, no matter who I go against,” CU cornerback Omarion Cooper said. “I’m trying to take this opportunity to the next level; trying to compete. I’m a competitor.”
As for Rice, he’ll have some special feelings coming back to Folsom Field, but is preparing for a battle.
“Colorado’s DBs and their defensive unit is gonna be sound,” he said. “Coach Prime has gone ahead and made sure they’re up to par, they’re gonna come ready, they’re gonna come ready to dogfight. They’re gonna protect home. Going to somebody else’s house to really go ahead and get a (win) is hard.”
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